Mexican Revolution (1910–1920)
The capital escaped the worst of the violence of the ten-year conflict of the Mexican Revolution. The most significant episode of this period for the city was the February 1913 la Decena Trágica (“The Ten Tragic Days”), when forces counter to the elected government of Francisco I. Madero staged a successful coup. The center of the city was subjected to artillery attacks from the army stronghold of the ciudadela or citadel, with significant civilian casualties and the undermining of confidence in the Madero government.
Victoriano Huerta, chief general of the Federal Army, saw a chance to take power, forcing Madero and Pino Suarez to sign resignations. The two were murdered later while on their way to Lecumberri prison. Huerta’s ouster in July 1914 saw the entry of the armies of Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, but the city did not experience violence. Huerta had abandoned the capital and the conquering armies marched in. Venustiano Carranza‘s Constitutionalist faction ultimately prevailed in the revolutionary civil war and Carranza took up residence in the presidential palace.
Armed conflict broke out in northern Mexico, led by Madero, Pascual Orozco, and Pancho Villa, and with support from portions of the middle class, the peasantry, and organized labor, Díaz was forced out. In the Treaty of Ciudad Juárez, Díaz resigned and went into exile, with new elections scheduled for the fall, and an interim presidency under Francisco León de la Barra installed. The new elections were held in 1911, and in a free and fair vote, Madero was overwhelmingly elected, taking office in November.
Opposition to his regime then grew from both the conservatives, who saw him as too weak and too liberal, and from former revolutionary fighters and the dispossessed, who saw him as too conservative.
In a chaotic period in February 1913, known as the Ten Tragic Days (Spanish: La Decena Trágica), Madero and his vice president Pino Suárez were forced to resign and assassinated. The counter-revolutionary regime of General Victoriano Huerta came to power, backed by the United States ambassador, local business interests, and other supporters of the old order. Huerta remained in power until July 1914, when he was forced out by a coalition of different regional revolutionary forces, including the forces of Pancho Villa, and those of Emiliano Zapata.
Also, wealthy landowner Venustiano Carranza formed the “Constitutionalist” political faction, and with military forces under the leadership of Álvaro Obregón, played an important part in defeating Huerta. When the revolutionaries’ attempt to reach political agreement failed, Mexico plunged into a civil war (1914–15). Carranza, again with Obregon’s military leadership, emerged as the victor in 1915, defeating the revolutionary forces of former ally Pancho Villa and forcing Zapata back to guerrilla warfare. Zapata was assassinated in 1919 by agents of President Carranza.
The sequence of armed conflicts saw the evolution of military technology, from the cavalry charges of Villa, to the early use of an airplane, and also barbed wire-protected machine gun nests, by Obregon. One major result of the revolution was the dissolution of the Federal Army in 1914, which Francisco Madero had kept intact when he was elected in 1911 and Huerta had used to oust Madero. Although the conflict was primarily a civil war, foreign powers that had important economic and strategic interests in Mexico figured in the outcome of Mexico’s power struggles. The United States played an especially significant role. Out of Mexico’s population of 15 million, the losses were high, but numerical estimates vary a great deal. Perhaps 1.5 million people died and nearly 200,000 refugees fled abroad, especially to the United States.
Many scholars consider the promulgation of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 (Spanish: Constitucion de 1917) as the end point of the armed conflict. “Economic and social conditions improved in accordance with revolutionary policies, so that the new society took shape within a framework of official revolutionary institutions”, with the constitution providing that framework. 1920–40 is often considered to be a phase of the revolution, as government power was consolidated, the Catholic clergy and institutions were attacked in the 1920s, and the 1917 constitution was implemented.
This armed conflict is often characterized as the most important sociopolitical event in Mexico and one of the greatest upheavals of the 20th century; it resulted in an important program of experimentation and reform in social organization. The revolution created the resulting political regime, until Mexico underwent an economic liberal reform process that started in the 1980s.